Measuring Soft Skills

Not confident that its students are prepared to succeed by merely completing the courses required for graduation, one North Carolina community college has ordered staff to factor “soft skills” into grading to try and measure workforce readiness.

According to an article by Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed:

Grades earned by many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will soon factor in “soft skills,” such as whether they show up for class on time or work well in groups. And next year the college will issue workplace readiness certificates alongside conventional credentials to recognize those skills.

It’s apparently really specific

A-B Tech… has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

There’s no indication that this “workplace readiness” certificate will result in an actual job. Furthermore, ready for what work?

As officials at the community college acknowledge, it’s a lot easier to measure soft skills in something like nursing or culinary arts, where the academic programs essentially are jobs training, than in liberal arts programs. If you’re taking a math class, what the hell does it matter how well the student works in a group? You either learned calculus or you didn’t.

The goal is apparently to train people to hold jobs successfully:

The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services. That’s because the college wants its students to believe that “I’ve got to give it my very best,” she said, both in class and on the job.

Wow. A-B Tech “wants its students to believe that ‘I’ve got to give it my very best.’” A-B Tech has not indicated whether or not failure to “give it my very best” will result in time outs or being forced to sit out recess.

The average student at the community college is 28 years old. Obviously working hard is an important factor in career success, but there’s no indication that real local businesses care at all if the school incorporates “workplace ready certificates” into grades.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer